In June, it will be 800 years since King John signed the Magna Carta to appease his rebellious barons, supposedly enshrining the idea that England (and eventually Britain) was governed by popular consent, rather than God-given or martially-won fiat in the laws and traditions of the land.
Of course, this is a neat fiction as the treaty was broken almost immediately by both sides and has since been rewritten four times, shattered by civil war, authoritarian rule and in any case was essentially an agreement between nobles and monarch, with no consideration given to the common people.
Nonetheless, such an anniversary marks a good point to look at the way Britain’s constitution (or lack therof) stands right now, especially with the likelihood of a second successive hung parliament finally confirming that the First Past The Post electoral system is not fit for purpose.
Despite gains made in increasing the franchise to the common man and eventually women, over the last few centuries, we still live in an elective dictatorship where feudal bodies and unelected corporations wield undue influence over our governance.
Still think we live in a democracy? How many people have a realistic chance of being Prime Minister after the election? How much is your vote in May likely to influence the result in your constituency, let alone the election as a whole?
A properly conducted constitutional convention with it’s findings implemented is a necessity if Britain is to become the truly democratic society it claims to be.
For the sake of argument, I would like to see the following, from the top down.
Written Constitution –
First of all, I believe the UK should have a written constitution that enshrines the rights and responsibilities of citizens, the role of government, places limits on the powers of government, police etc. and protects the people and institutions of the country from corporate influence.
This constitution would be revisited and if necessary revised every 25 or 50 years.
House of Commons –
Firstly, constituency boundaries should be redrawn to accommodate reform of the electoral system so that the Commons is elected by proportional representation using the additional member system.
Secondly, MPs can be recalled by their constituents if they are regarded as having failed in their responsibilities.
Thirdly, there will be wholesale reform of MPs pay and expenses and they will no longer be exempt from prosecution for slander or perjury incurred when in parliament.
Lastly, the role of central government would be lessened with most power devolved to regional assemblies and local government. Central government would be responsible for broad economic policy,
House of Lords –
The Lords is to be abolished and replaced with an elected Senate that is tasked to ensure that the Commons does not overstep its constitutionally defined boundaries. In contrast to the Commons, party affiliations would be prohibited for senators, who would be under strict controls in terms of campaign fundraising. The idea being that senators would be concerned with the protection of the constitution & people, not the exercise of political power.
Devolved Assemblies / Federalism –
All regions of the UK would have devolved assemblies, equivalent to the Scottish, Welsh & Irish parliaments which would retain the bulk of tax revenues and have the most broad ranging powers of any level of government, balancing scale and localism to best effect.
Local Government –
The powers of local government would be increased, with direct responsibility for issues like primary medical care, law enforcement and so on.
All of these reforms are designed to result in a United Kingdom where power resides with the people of the UK, where citizens have a real chance to affect the laws and decisions which affect them and where no part of the country feels subservient or unduly influenced by another.
Now, in a more light hearted fashion…
Location of Central Government
The predominance of London dates back to the creation of England by Athelstan in 927 but in the interests of a truly United Kingdom, it must be mooted that London is exceedingly remote from most of the country and the peculiar legal status of the City of London makes it a decidedly unsuitable location for the government of a democratic country.
As such, I propose that the new House of Commons and Senate complex be built in a more central location – with the UK’s centre of population currently lying in the vicinity of the aptly named hamlet of Appleby Magna in Leicestershire some hundred and ten miles to the north west of London.
It’s still in England (although as the largest constituent part of the UK by both population and geographic extent, this is to be expected) but considerably closer to the outlying regions of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the extreme West of England and would be more accessible for both representatives and public from across the nation.